Posted on Nov 26, 2001

The Board of Trustees has approved a restructuring of the Engineering Division, including the phasing out of the civil engineering department.

As part of this restructuring, the College will focus its efforts on converging technologies.

Noting that Union was the first liberal arts college to offer engineering, President Roger Hull said, “The question before us is how engineering will fit, not whether it will fit. One of Union's defining characteristics-perhaps its most fundamental defining characteristic is the historic existence of engineering within a liberal arts framework. It is my strong belief that Union must continue to define itself in this fashion, and I pledge to do all that I can to ensure that goal.”

David B. Chapnick '59, chairman of the board, said, “During the past two years, as we developed The Plan for Union, we recognized the need to focus on a new direction in engineering while also making the most effective use of our resources.

“Our decision is a recognition that we should no longer commit resources to sustain the number of faculty necessary to offer four excellent programs in engineering and computer science,” Chapnick continued. “We now will focus our energies on converging technologies and the teaching of computer science, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering.”

The overall amount of the College's budget committed to engineering will not increase, but resources previously allocated to civil engineering will be reallocated to other engineering disciplines at the College. In addition, the College will raise $9 million for the renovation of engineering classrooms and laboratories.
Union has about 2,000 full-time undergraduates, 1,700 majoring in the liberal arts and 300 in engineering. Chapnick said that the board's decision will “rebalance the commitment of financial resources to reflect this reality of student interest in engineering.”

Christina Sorum, dean of the faculty, said converging technologies “will develop engineering and computer science curricula that are not only enhanced by their presence within a liberal arts college but that themselves enhance the education available for liberal arts students through program interaction and access.

Converging technologies will bring biology, chemistry, physics, and ethics together with computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. In addition to providing computer science, computer systems engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering degrees, converging technologies will expose Union's students to ways of thinking that encompass academic disciplines across the College.

The College already has begun to focus on four converging technology areas:

Bioengineering: the combination of analytical and experimental methods of engineering and computer science with the biological sciences to achieve a better understanding of biological phenomena and to develop new techniques and devices. A biomechanics course is being offered this fall, and a faculty committee has defined the structure of a possible bioengineering minor.

Nanotechnology: the convergence of biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, and engineering to create and use materials, devices, and systems at the level of molecular structures. The College hired a new faculty member this fall who has an interest in applying nanotechnology to energy conversion processes, and a polymer chemistry course is being revamped to include nanochemistry.

Mechatronics and Intelligent Systems: the convergence of electrical, mechanical, and computational systems to study basic mechanical design, systems analysis, control systems, and decision analysis. A new mechatronics course will be offered next spring, and students will construct and program a functional mechatronics interface for data acquisition and process control.

Pervasive Computing: the convergence of digital communication and computational systems – focuses on topics such as wireless networks, information transmission, and information processing. A new course in wireless communication is being offered this fall.

“Certainly, the basic health of the College is very sound, and there are many positive indicators, financial and otherwise, of Union's strength and vigor,” said President Hull. “At the same time, we must acknowledge that the competition we face for faculty, students, and resources is intense, and growing increasingly so. We could afford to keep things as they are, but we recognize that this is a time when we must plan imaginatively and carefully for the future.”

The president said that the College would now bring the liberal arts and engineering together in a way that enables the past of engineering to be prologue to its future. “Leading the effort to implement a con-verging technologies curriculum at an undergraduate college is consistent with Union's history, and certainly consistent with our commitment to offer the best education we can to our students,” he said.

Current civil engineering students will be able to finish their program at Union, but no new students will be accepted in the program. The four tenured faculty members in the Department of Civil Engineering are being offered the opportunity to continue to teach in the Engineering Division.